| East Bengal captain Suley Musah accepts the offering of a hilsa from one of the thousands of fans who had gathered at the city airport late on Tuesday. To his right is Sandip Nandy. Picture by Amit Dattay
Calcutta: East Bengal painted the town red, literally, on Tuesday. Since the time Subhas Bhowmick and his boys laid their hands on the top prize of the inaugural ASEAN Club Championship on Saturday, the city was waiting for its endeared sons to land and, finally, rolled itself out in red and gold.
The moment arrived late on Tuesday. Thousands of fans, braving the steady drizzle, gathered at the airport to receive the champions, who touched down around 10.35 pm by a Singapore Airlines flight.
Unusually, it took the players about an hour to get the customs and immigration clearance. In the mean time, mashals were lit all over the place to greet the players who had made the country proud when they beat BEC Tero Sasana 3-1 in the final.
The welcome was organised by the state government and the Dum Dum Municipal Corporation.
A podium was constructed beside Gate No. 5 of the international terminal, where the players were felicitated.
Among others present were state sports minister Subhas Chakraborty and former India coach Syed Nayeemuddin, who had specially flown down from Mumbai to attend this function.
“It’s a historic occasion, I had to be there,” Nayeemuddin said. He also felt that Bhowmick had a huge role to play in the stupendous success of the team.
In fact Bhowmick was the first to get on to the dais, followed by his players.
Bhaichung Bhutia, who took the stage last, was filming the happenings on his handycam.
It may be noted that Bhutia has clinched a two-month deal with Malaysian champions Perak FC. The star striker and highest scorer of the tournament is scheduled to leave for the Southeast Asian nation in mid-August for the Malaysia Cup. Bhutia will replace Brazilian Flavio Glavo, who was injured during Perak’s match against Petrokimia Putra for the third-and-fourth place play-off.
Every time Bhutia and Bhowmick’s names came up on Tuesday, there were cheers galore. Following the felicitation, the players went straight to the team bus and a convoy of vehicles of all shapes and sizes, from Scorpios to autos, followed the cavalcade along VIP Road.
Earlier in the day, state chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee praised East Bengal yet again, saying: “This is not only an important happening for East Bengal, it’s a national event.”
Mohammedan Sporting, meanwhile, have claimed that they were the first Indian club to win an international tournament, not East Bengal, as is being widely said.
In a statement, club secretary Sultan Ahmed said Mohammedan Sporting had won the first Aga Khan Gold Cup in Dhaka in 1962, beating an Indonesian XI 4-2 in the final.